Thaiboxing, markets and hundreds of temples – Chiang Mai!
Chiang Mai is the first city in north Thailand that I’ve been to, and I have to say that Im pleasantly surprised! We took the overnight train from Bangkok which is an excellent way to travel. We ended up on the 2nd class sleeper wagon with aircondition, since all the cheaper options were already taken. A good tip, bring warm clothes! You get bed covers and a blanket, but they tend to turn the aircondtion on maximum and it will get cold if you don’t put on some extra clothes.. The trains in Thailand are both on time and comfortable, and they serve both dinner and breakfast if you require it. We ended up eating a bit and playing cards in the restaurant wagon untill it was time to go to bed. Since my stomach was still not up for beer I couldn’t enjoy the cheap beer as I did last time visiting Thailand with Jørgen, Øystein Mathilde and Anja.
Arriving in Chiang Mai early in the morning proved to be not much of a problem, as we got a taxi to drop us of along the eastern side of the old city moat where there were supposed to be a lot of cheap guesthouses. As with any large city in Thailand you can get accomodation ranging from cheap guesthouses to luxurious hotels that put every hotel in Norway to shame. The prices range from around 20kr (3 USD) to 400 kr (56 USD) per person based on whether you like us want just a comfortable bed with a bathroom, or if you require a penthouse view of the city with fitness studios and swimming pools. We ended up staying at the V.I.P guesthouse, which I recommend as you get big clean rooms with a balcony and an attached bathroom for the same price as a shared bathroom small bedroom in Bangkok.
Chiang Mai is an excellent starting place for trekking in the northern part of Thailand. Here you can experience the hilltribes of the north including the long necked Karen tribe who you have probably seen on Discovery. Due to Eli and me still not feeling 100% well we ended up exploring the city instead and doing one day tour to the amazing Elephant Nature Reservation which I will write about later.
Chiang Mai has an amazing density of wats (temples) and you could barely walk a block without walking past an amazing temple, or a shrine in a back alley somewhere. The temples here were all free as well, and it was a real pleasure to walk around and soak in the sights.
On Sundays the whole of the old city (the part that is surrounded by a rectangular moat) turns into a lively nightmarked selling all kinds of handcrafts. With people playing music, making food or snacks and stalls selling some of the best quality handwork I have seen so far. This market can’t be missed. It can be compared to the Nigh bazaar which is held every day in the south east of the city, but this is more tourist oriented and it’s way more fun to mingle with the thais as they also walk around enjoying the market.
Karl Kristian and me also ended up buying a suit! It’s my second tailormade suit made in Thailand and on my last visit I also got a winter coat made to go with the first suit I bought. I so far haven’t been able to test the suit that we got made at Imperial fashion in Chiang Mai, but the cut and fabric was very nice and we both opted for the extra vest for the added mafia look. If you go to a quality tailor in Thailand you’ll both save a lot of money and get a suit that’s really good, compared to what you would get at a regular chain store in Norway. If you’re thinking about buying a suit I would definently recommend the Emporium Collection iin Bangkok, and after using my suit for a while I will see if I can recommend the Imperial Fashion in Chiang Mai as well. Making a tailormade suit for you takes a minimum of 24 hours, but I would recommend giving them a few days so there’s no rush. On the first visit you pick out the style and fabric that you want. I ended up with a blue pinstriped suit, a black shrit and a vest while Karl Kristian went with a black pinstriped suit, a white shirt and a vest. On the first visit you also haggle for a decent price. Not sure if we paid too much or not, we ended up with paying 13 000 baht per person (2300 kr, 330 USD) for everything. You also get measured on the first visit so that they can start to make the outline of the suit for the second fitting. We came back on the second day, after we had been to the Elephant Nature Park, and got to try out the finished shirt and the half finished pants, vest and jacket. Here you can make any comments about how you want it to fit. Since we were originally leaving early the next morning they finished the suit in four hours delivering it at our guesthouse at 23:30.. that’s good service 🙂
While we were waiting for the suits to be finished I finally had the chance to see a Thai boxing (Muay Thai) match. After having dinner the four of us headed towards the stadium, not sure what to expext. The ticket you bought got you a seat at a table with the boxing ring about 10 metres away. So the seats weren’t bad at all! The ticket also gave you not one fight but eight fights in total, along with a show fight that was probably the highlight of the evening. The thai boxing lasted for about 3 hours and 30 minutes and they start of with the kids. It was a bit weird to see 10 year old boys hammering at each other so we were anxiously waiting for the guys who had atleast gone through puberty.. The fights were brutal! They circled each other, waiting for the right time and BAM! They went at each other in a frenzy of kicks and punches, leaving the skin on their thighs and backs red with bruises. Only one of the matches we saw ended with a knock out, but they were all impressive in regards to stamina and just how much of a beating they could all take! Halfway through the fights they also had a showfight were three boxers were seated close to each other, and blindfolded before the fighting began. Here it was only allowed to punch each other, as you can also use your legs in regular thai boxing. As they tumbled around the ring feeling with one hand and punching with the other, it almost seemed like a circus show and we coldn’t help but laugh. The judge on the other hand had his hands full keeping track of where all the boxers where, and he constantly kept getting knocked down as one of the boxers thought he was a fighter 🙂
Chiang Mai is very small compared to Bangkok, but it’s also less humid and the heat is more bearable. If you are an action junkie, cultural explorer or temple lover then this place is right for you. There’s so much to do here that we couldn’t enjoy due to still having a queasy stomach… Cooking courses, massage courses, thai boxing lessons, trekking in the mountais, mountain bike rental, elephant parks, tiger parks and so on. There is enough to do here for several weeks, but as we have to be back in Bangkok on the 4th of april we figured that it was time to head on into Laos where the Gibbon Experience awaits us! (www.gibbonx.org)